By Suzanne Fine
The Law Society is currently carrying out a review that could shake up the entire continuing professional development (CPD) system. As regulator of the education and training of solicitors in this country, the society is flexing its muscles and intends to match other professions in increasing the number of hours required for CPD. The current requirement for solicitors is 16 hours a year, whereas dentists have a 50-hour requirement and accountants 40. So how will you and your firm ensure that you comply with any new requirements?
To many lawyers, CPD simply means attending 16 hours of courses in a year. Larger firms offer extensive in-house training courses so that a lawyer can easily meet the 16-hour requirement through an extensive range of training. However, many lawyers in smaller firms have to pay external providers for training to meet the requirements. I think it is wrong for solicitors to be forced to spend large amounts on formal training courses simply to comply with the regulations.
CPD should develop your professional skills and knowledge so that you are able to better meet the changing needs of clients. If the number of hours required for lawyers’ CPD is increased, I would be in favour of widening the scope of activities that could count towards that total. There are various activities that all lawyers undertake as part of their everyday work which in my view contribute to the development of their professional skills. These might include reading particular journals, legal research, online training, preparing and delivering training to others, contributing to the firm’s internal knowhow base and work-shadowing activities.
There are certain elements of CPD that the Law Society might make compulsory. For example, compulsory courses in professional standards, ethics and professional conduct may be required. The Law Society Council has also discussed imposing training in equality and diversity, which is certainly the case in the US. All the more reason, in my view, to allow a wider range of activities to form part of CPD activity.
You should ensure that as much CPD that you undertake as possible is relevant to your practice. Rather than treat CPD as a compliance issue and a hurdle to overcome, you should view any increase in the requirements as an opportunity to think about how you can improve the way in which you work and serve your clients. What training and personal development do you think would be of benefit to you? The responsibility for complying with the regulations is yours, and you should aim to make the most of the opportunities available. The Law Society will, I am sure, be looking at ways of ensuring compliance with CPD regulations once Sir David Clementi has published his review of regulation of the profession, and you will need to be ready for that.
Suzanne Fine is a barrister and head of legal training at Lovells